The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


Leave a comment

Candidates for President on Climate, Part IV

Continuing my review the field of presidential candidates….

As a reminder, I’m only writing about candidates on climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running (note that this link goes to an online document that is being updated. If you read this post long after I write it, the link might go to something very different than the document I read).

The Democratic Field (In Part)

With so many Democrats running, I have to take the candidates in groups. Four weeks ago, I posted my first installment of the series, the first group, which included people at the current front of the pack, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Three weeks ago, I posted a second group, including the majority of the female hopefuls, plus Jay Inslee, the self-styled Climate Candidate. Two weeks ago, I posted a third installment that included the majority of non-white hopefuls. Last week I posted a piece about some of the remaining candidates, people with very little name recognition and few resources. Now, I’m finishing the series with a final group of long-shots.

As with last week’s group, we can be almost (but not entirely!) sure none of these long-shots will get the nomination, let alone the presidency, but that does not make them irrelevant. Some may use this year’s presidential run as a platform to do something else of note, including running for president again and maybe winning. Some may be tapped for cabinet positions or become the nominee’s running mate. And any of them has the potential to shape the conversation and influence the public positions of the other candidates.

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio is the current Mayor of New York, and apparently a large majority of New Yorkers do not support his candidacy. He is perhaps best-known for launching a universal pre-Kindergarden program in his city, but he is claiming some serious climate-action chops.

New York City has its own Green New Deal–a group of recently-passed city laws called the Climate Mobilization Act (and branded, yes, as the Green New Deal, despite having no direct connection to Representative Ocasio-Cortez’ proposal) is aimed at keeping the city on track with the Paris Climate Agreement, largely by mandating a combination of greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy use by most of its larger buildings. It’s an ambitious and exciting step, not least because the city will now act as a logistical and political test case for serious climate action plans. Mr. de Blasio himself was initially skeptical, but has embraced the Act, possibly because it allows him to directly challenge President Trump, whose properties are among those the Act targets.

New York is also one of the places most obviously vulnerable to climate change, as Superstorm Sandy made tragically clear. It makes sense that the city’s mayor should have the issue on his radar, and Mr. de Blasio has proposed a way to “climate proof” Manhattan (also branded as part of the Green New Deal) by building up a raised berm around the edge of the island. The plan has been criticized for its vagueness and for the possibility that excluding water from Manhattan could make flooding worse in surrounding areas. Personally, I wonder where rainwater is going to go if the island becomes bowl-shaped. Has the city’s storm-water management system been designed for climate-change-related rainstorms?

Mr. de Blasio has also been criticized for ignoring opportunities for local clean power generation in favor of Canadian hydropower–and Canadian hydropower has a poor environmental record and a terrible environmental justice record.

It appears that Mr. de Blasio is both talking the talk and walking the walk on climate, but the questions raised about his various plans are worrying.

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet is a centrist Senator whose primary interests include healthcare, which seems fitting as he had to delay his own campaign for health reasons earlier this year. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 90%, disappointing in a Democrat these days, but his score for 2018 is 100%, a puzzling disparity. He has released a climate plan of his own, of which the League of Conservation Voters heartily approves, noting that he is taking the challenge of climate change seriously. That his climate plan was the first policy proposal of his presidential campaign is a good sign that the issue really is a priority for him.

On the other hand, he has a history of supporting natural gas development, voted for the Keystone Pipeline, and seems generally reluctant to antagonize the fossil fuel industry. It’s worth noting that he favors natural gas as a pragmatic bridge fuel, since its use is less carbon-intensive than coal–it’s possible he’s a genuine environmentalist whose disagreements with most climate hawks are a matter of strategy, rather than of differing goals.

Eric Swalwell

Eric Swalwell is a California Congressman interested in gun control. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 95%, not bad, but his 2018 score is 89%, putting him well behind the rest of the pack. He touts his own environmental record as a legislator (meaning he does care about environmental voters), but so far I have not found evidence of him offering real leadership on the topic.

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock is Governor of Montana and is running for President on a campaign of ending unlimited campaign contributions and “dark” money in politics. He (quite correctly) points out that all other progressive and liberal issues will remain unsolvable until the playing fields gets closer to fair. He has not qualified for the first debate, but is notable for having won (by 20 points) a state Mr. Trump carried, and he has demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle, getting his Republican legislature to pass traditionally Democratic issues.

Unfortunately, his record on climate is terrible, since he fought against President Obama’s climate action policies in order to protect Montana’s coal industry. He wants the US to rejoin Paris, but it’s difficult to see how he expects to meet our obligations under the agreement without rapidly phasing out coal, something he does not want to do.

Mr. Bullock has recently brought Montana into the US Climate Alliance, a group organized with the aim of lowering emissions in accordance with Paris on a state-by-state basis. He appears to be actively courting climate voters, at least. Strictly speaking, that’s good–but he’s not the savvy climate hawk we need right now.

Seth Moulton

At just 40 years old, Seth Moulton is young for a presidential candidate. A military veteran, he told CNN that “I do think that it’s time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.” He has also been very open about his struggles with PTSD (successful, thanks to therapy). He has not qualified for the debates.

His score with the League of Conservation Voters shows the same odd deterioration as Eric Swalwell’s: lifetime is an impressive 97%, but in 2018 he scored only 89%. His plan to address climate and college affordability involves a large-scale national service program similar to the old Civilian Conservation Corps, aimed at projects designed to either mitigate or respond to climate change (through disaster response, for example) and tied to some serious money for college or vocational training. Frankly, it’s an excellent idea, for any number of reasons. It can’t lower national emissions by itself, so if green service ends up being Mr. Moulton’s only response to climate that’s a big problem, but in and of itself it’s a great idea.

He lists climate change as a core issue for his candidacy and was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, though he has also criticized the proposal. He also supports nuclear energy, which many environmentalists very much don’t–but nuclear is a legitimate point for debate on environmental strategy. He might have a point.

Wayne Messam

Mr. Messam is a former football star, an entrepreneur, and, currently, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, a large and rapidly-growing suburb of Miami. He was initially elected as mayor by only four points, but he won re-election in a landslide, suggesting he’s doing a very good job. He boasts of his ability to put together teams to get things done, and lead the fight against construction of an oil well in the Everglades. He has asserted that climate change is an important issue and he was one of the mayors to openly criticize President Trump’s withdrawal from Paris.

Unfortunately for him, he’s having trouble attracting either political support or money for his presidential campaign. He did not qualify for the first debate and has lost important staff because his campaign cannot afford to pay them.

Mr. Messam has a number of interesting policy proposals on a variety of topics. Unfortunately, climate change is not one of those topics. He says nothing the other candidates do not say.

So, Here We Are

23 Democrats! Personally, I suspect the number is about to start shrinking, now that we’re past the first debates.

For our purposes, we can eliminate a few more names, people who are just not serious candidates on the question of climate. That the majority of Democratic hopefuls are serious about climate is good news, though it does make endorsement rather daunting. Rather than pick one favorite at this point, I’m dividing the field into three tiers: climate champions; qualified climate candidates; and unqualified on climate.

Unqualified on Climate

I highly recommend not voting for any of these in the primary, though should any of them win the nomination, they would all be better than the current president:

  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Andrew Yang
  • Tim Ryan
  • Steve Bullock
  • Seth Moulton (he’ll graduate to “qualified” if he releases a plan that can actually lower emissions)

Qualified Climate Candidates

These people are not as strong on climate as I’d like to see, but I’d be comfortable with any of them in the White House. President Obama would have been in this category, and he did quite well.

  • Joe Biden
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Kamala Harris
  • Cory Booker
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Julián Castro
  • Marian Williamson
  • John Delany
  • John Hickenlooper
  • Bill de Blasio
  • Michael Bennet
  • Eric Swalwell
  • Wayne Messam

Climate Champions

These are the folks who make me happy. To be clear, climate hawkishness is not the only factor, here; a merely qualified person who is a skilled and effective politician would be far better than an ideologically pure limp-along. But these are the folks standing up to lead on climate.

  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Jay Inslee

 

Advertisements


2 Comments

Domocratic Candidates on Climate, Part III

Here we go, continuing my review the field of presidential candidates.

As in years past, I’m only going to write about candidates as regards climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running.

The Democratic Field (In Part)

With so many Democrats running, I have to take the candidates in groups. Two weeks ago, I posted my first installment of the series, the first group, which included people at the current front of the pack, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Last week, I posted a second group, including the majority of the female hopefuls, plus Jay Inslee, the self-styled Climate Candidate. It’s time for another installment.

Cory Booker

Cory Booker made a name for himself as the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and now serves in the US Senate. He concerns himself largely with criminal and economic justice, and the values of love, unity, and civic grace.

He has a lifetimes score with the League of Conservation Voters of 99%; in a legislative career of five years, he has cast only one anti-environment vote. He talks about climate change publicly, and does support the Green New Deal. but the issue is not being covered as a central issue of his campaign. For example, this article in the Washington Post mentions climate briefly in the introduction as among Mr. Booker’s policy interests but does not elaborate, focusing instead on his other issues. Whether the article accurately reflects Mr. Booker’s priorities is not clear. He IS interested in environmental justice, particularly in repairing the EPA and making sure polluters pay for clean ups, but does not mention climate change in that context in the reports that I’ve found.

Mr. Booker seems unlikely to take a leadership role in climate action, since he does not use it a lens through which to discuss the economic and social justice issues that are clearly close to his heart. He would undoubtedly support climate action if someone else takes the lead, however.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke is famous mostly for having come this close to unseating Senator Ted Cruz and for being really cool. He skate-boards, for example. All of which sounds somewhat laughable, but for a Democrat to come close to winning statewide office in Texas is impressive, and “cool” encompasses a lot of intangible skills that are important in a public figure. Think of John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton–or Teddy Roosevelt.

Mr. O’Rourke has a lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters of 95% over a legislative career that goes back to 2013. His score would be higher, but he missed three votes in 2016 that he has stated would have been pro-environment.

Mr. O’Rourke has a mixed record on climate. He acknowledges the reality of climate change, has discussed the need for climate action publicly, and speaks well of the Green New Deal, but in his previous campaign he did not run on the issue, possibly because he depends on voters who depend on the oil industry. He has accepted large campaign contributions from the industry, has supported fracking, and does not appear to favor a shift away from fossil fuels.

He has released a climate plan of his own, and while the plan is not as aggressive as some, it does appear to be serious. He may be moving towards the green side in order to compete with the other Democrats in the field.

Amy Klobuchar

Ms. Klobuchar is a Midwestern Democrat with a reputation for working well with Republicans. Her victories tend to involve “small” issues with an outsized impact, and she is pragmatic and calm under fire. She also acknowledges that she can be difficult to work for, and it’s hard to say how that might translate to the presidency.

Amy Klobuchar’s lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 96%, impressive, given that her legislative career goes back to 2007. If elected President, she promises to get the US back into the Paris Agreement and reinstate various Obama-era climate policies within her first 100 days in office, but she has not endorsed the Green New Deal, however, as she does not think we can meet its goals. She does not seem to be proposing anything new.

Andrew Yang

Mr. Yang is a businessman who has been involved in revitalizing urban centers by supporting economic development and job-related training. He advocates a universal basic income, which he says has the potential to attract attention from people who have otherwise given up on politics as irrelevant to them. He has attracted a significant following online among libertarians, including members of the alt. right–something he’s uncomfortable with and has disavowed. Given that Mr. Yang is not white, his appeal among racists is curious and may not be genuine.

Mr. Yang is concerned about climate change and favors a variety of responses, including, somewhat surprisingly, geoengineering. However, there is almost nothing to say about Mr. Yang on climate besides his campaign promises and other statements related to his campaign–and that is concerning. As a businessman, he certainly had the opportunity to get involved in some kind of climate-related project, and he didn’t.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro is a former mayor of San Antonio and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Hillary Clinton seriously considered him as a possible running mate. Given who he is and where he is from, it is not surprising that he’s concerned about immigration policy. He’s also championing universal pre-kindergarden. He has committed to visit all 50 states during the primaries, and has already visited Puerto Rico, something no other Democrat in the field had done at the time.

Mr. Castro has a very clear record of putting the public good over his personal interest on environmental issues. He tells a story about when he was mayor in San Antonio, and quit his job as a lawyer so that he could vote against allowing a client of his (former) firm to build a golf course that could have contaminated the city’s drinking water. He wasn’t independently wealthy and needed that job.

He supports the Green New Deal, has pledged not to take donations from fossil fuel companies, and approaches climate action largely through economic development and the creation of jobs in renewable energy. As mayor, he took a number of pro-climate actions, including directing the city to source 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. He also supported fracking, though.

He does not appear to have discussed possibilities for climate action from the White House in detail, nor has he made the news on the subject recently. He has released a detailed plan for dealing with lead contamination in drinking water, so environmental issues in general seem to be on his mind.

Thoughts

Most likely, Andrew Yang is simply not serious about addressing climate change; if he were, he would have done so before running for office, it’s not as if the issue is new. The others in this group seem either ambivalent on the issue (Beto O’Rourke) or somewhat distracted by other issues, though all of them are eager to be seen as strong on climate. All, with the possible exception of Mr. Yang, seem genuinely interested in making at least some meaningful progress on climate. Again, the worst of the field this year resemble the best of the field a decade ago.